By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
SPCA of Upstate New York says it is struggling for its very existence and is asking Warren County to start paying for SPCA services it has received, gratis, for years.
Dr. Kyra Haring, the Glens Falls veterinarian who now chairs the SPCA board, said the group’s request for $15,000 monthly is “bare bones, for what it would cost us to stay open.”
“If Warren County does not pony up, we cannot continue to do all this work for free,” Dr. Haring warned. “They would have to pay a lot more to do it themselves, or pay someone else, rather than continue to support this organization that has been here and doing this for 65 years.”
SPCA’s services range from sheltering dogs, cats, horses, cows, other pets and livestock in animal cruelty or abandonment cases involving seizure, as well as working with law enforcement to investigate animal cruelty and abuse cases.
Undersheriff Terry Comeau said the County fielded 1,011 dog-related and 640 other animal calls last year.
“When there’s a call,” he said, “the SPCA is often the first one on the scene, even before law enforcement. They can tell the difference between feelings (of a bad situation) and when there’s an actual crime. That saves us a lot of time.”
Dr. Haring’s veterinary practice is For Pets Sake in Glens Falls. “For almost 23 years,” she said she has served as SPCA Upstate’s lead veterinarian at no charge.
In March when Dr. Haring stepped in to chair the SPCA’s board of directors, she said she was shocked at the financial situation she found. “Holy hell,” was the oath she said she exclaimed.
“We can’t keep doing it like this,” Dr. Haring says. “We’re out of funds.”
Cathy Cloutier, director of SPCA Upstate, said she and her assistant director have not been paid “for 11 or 12 weeks.”
“We are just trying to keep the staff paid,” Ms. Cloutier tells The Chronicle.
Ginelle Jones, Warren County Health Services Director, told a committee meeting in April, “This organization is looking at a realistic way to stay in business and to reassure us they can respond to Sheriff’s calls for these animal cruelty cases and being able to shelter these animals.”
Dr. Haring said that when SPCA initially contacted Warren County, they were advised to request funds from its $12.4 million American Rescue Plan Covid relief grant, but they weren’t deemed eligible.
With ARPA funds spent, the County should look instead at allocating operating funds through the conventional bidding process, County Attorney Larry Elman told the Committee meeting.
Several Supervisors indicated support, but also wanted to know more.
Following that meeting, in early May Warren County published a Request for Proposals.
SPCA Upstate was the only group to submit a proposal, County Administrator John Taflan tells The Chronicle. (Another entity asked the county to extend the application deadline, unsucessfully.)
Mr. Taflan says, “We’ve called on SPCA Upstate services 118 times already this past year. We need them to ty should have had a contract with them at some point.”
He said Warren County paid $250,000 to a different entity to provide these services from 2016 to 2018.
The history of that relationship is unclear, Mr. Taflan said, as he only came on as County Administrator last year.
Now, he says, “I think if the SPCA gets a proposal to us that’s reasonable, the Board of Supervisors will support it.”
He said he hopes eventually to partner with Washington County on funding. “But, first, we can do what we can here.”
Dr. Haring and Ms. Cloutier said Washington County was not as ready to discuss financially supporting their efforts.
Beyond county funding, there was talk in a committee meeting of a per-situation fee of $200 for animal cruelty cases.
Mr. Taflan declined to comment on an ongoing negotiation.
The monthly stipend, Dr. Haring said, “gives us a base of support so we can keep the place running, and we are there when they need us. It’s like an insurance policy.”
She said, “We never know when we will be needed, or how big a case may be.
“It could be one dog or cat. It could be a case of 30-40 dogs, or 60 cats, or we have a lot of cases with farm animals that are neglected that need to be housed, or monitored, and cared for.”
Mr. Taflan said the issue was to be discussed in a meeting with SPCA on Wednesday, May 31. He said he aims to bring a proposal to committee as soon as this Friday, and to the monthly board meeting on Wednesday, June 14.
Covid, other issues
“A lot has contributed to this situation,” says Dr. Haring. “Covid did a number on the organization, and we have been fairly silent as to what we do, so people don’t know, or they don’t care.”
Also, she said, “There are now so many pop-up adoption groups. That’s all they do, and they have a strong ability to fund-raise.”
Ms. Cloutier said the SPCA sometimes is earmarked to receive court-ordered restitution in criminal cases, but that often “these are people who couldn’t afford to take care of their animals, or didn’t care, and they don’t have the money to pay restitution either, or they just don’t pay, and we can’t afford to take them to court for it.”
Dr. Haring says, “I’ll keep doing this, for the sake of the animals. If we quit this, we quit on them.” She said she’s currently housing at her veterinary office a dog in an abuse case, with no financial support for the animal’s health care or food.
“I will continue to provide services,” she said, “but I expect to be paid. The county has money, and these are their animals.”
SPCA of Upstate NY has its own complex back story. In the late 1990s, it went deeply into debt to build a million-dollar state-of-the art facility near Warren County Airport.
Ms. Cloutier was the assistant director who took over as the group faced foreclosure “and a huge debt load.”
She said they sold that property and moved operations up Queensbury Avenue into the retrofitted, more modest building where they are currently located.
Ms. Cloutier said SPCA aims to “restructure,” to focus on animal cruelty cases, animal rehabilitation and community education — and step back from serving as official Dog Control officer as they do now for the City of Glens Falls and Town of Queensbury, she said.
They are also scaling back on shelter services. “We are full. We are not taking any more animals in,” she said.
Dr. Haring said beyond government funding, her goal as board chair is to increase fund-raising, bring on more volunteers, do outreach at schools and collaborate with other animal service providers.
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